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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWar And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 19
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War And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 19 Post by :CharlesWest Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :685

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War And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 19

On the twenty-fourth of August the battle of the Shevardino
Redoubt was fought, on the twenty-fifth not a shot was fired by either
side, and on the twenty-sixth the battle of Borodino itself took

Why and how were the battles of Shevardino and Borodino given and
accepted? Why was the battle of Borodino fought? There was not the
least sense in it for either the French or the Russians. Its immediate
result for the Russians was, and was bound to be, that we were brought
nearer to the destruction of Moscow- which we feared more than
anything in the world; and for the French its immediate result was
that they were brought nearer to the destruction of their whole
army- which they feared more than anything in the world. What the
result must be was quite obvious, and yet Napoleon offered and Kutuzov
accepted that battle.

If the commanders had been guided by reason, it would seem that it
must have been obvious to Napoleon that by advancing thirteen
hundred miles and giving battle with a probability of losing a quarter
of his army, he was advancing to certain destruction, and it must have
been equally clear to Kutuzov that by accepting battle and risking the
loss of a quarter of his army he would certainly lose Moscow. For
Kutuzov this was mathematically clear, as it is that if when playing
draughts I have one man less and go on exchanging, I shall certainly
lose, and therefore should not exchange. When my opponent has
sixteen men and I have fourteen, I am only one eighth weaker than
he, but when I have exchanged thirteen more men he will be three times
as strong as I am.

Before the battle of Borodino our strength in proportion to the
French was about as five to six, but after that battle it was little
more than one to two: previously we had a hundred thousand against a
hundred and twenty thousand; afterwards little more than fifty
thousand against a hundred thousand. Yet the shrewd and experienced
Kutuzov accepted the battle, while Napoleon, who was said to be a
commander of genius, gave it, losing a quarter of his army and
lengthening his lines of communication still more. If it is said
that he expected to end the campaign by occupying Moscow as he had
ended a previous campaign by occupying Vienna, there is much
evidence to the contrary. Napoleon's historians themselves tell us
that from Smolensk onwards he wished to stop, knew the danger of his
extended position, and knew that the occupation of Moscow would not be
the end of the campaign, for he had seen at Smolensk the state in
which Russian towns were left to him, and had not received a single
reply to his repeated announcements of his wish to negotiate.

In giving and accepting battle at Borodino, Kutuzov acted
involuntarily and irrationally. But later on, to fit what had
occurred, the historians provided cunningly devised evidence of the
foresight and genius the generals who, of all the blind tools of
history were the most enslaved and involuntary.

The ancients have left us model heroic poems in which the heroes
furnish the whole interest of the story, and we are still unable to
accustom ourselves to the fact that for our epoch histories of that
kind are meaningless.

On the other question, how the battle of Borodino and the
preceding battle of Shevardino were fought, there also exists a
definite and well-known, but quite false, conception. All the
historians describe the affair as follows:

The Russian army, they say, in its retreat from Smolensk sought
out for itself the best position for a general engagement and found
such a position at Borodino.

The Russians, they say, fortified this position in advance on the
left of the highroad (from Moscow to Smolensk) and almost at a right
angle to it, from Borodino to Utitsa, at the very place where the
battle was fought.

In front of this position, they say, a fortified outpost was set
up on the Shevardino mound to observe the enemy. On the twenty-fourth,
we are told, Napoleon attacked this advanced post and took it, and, on
the twenty-sixth, attacked the whole Russian army, which was in
position on the field of Borodino.

So the histories say, and it is all quite wrong, as anyone who cares
to look into the matter can easily convince himself.

The Russians did not seek out the best position but, on the
contrary, during the retreat passed many positions better than
Borodino. They did not stop at any one of these positions because
Kutuzov did not wish to occupy a position he had not himself chosen,
because the popular demand for a battle had not yet expressed itself
strongly enough, and because Miloradovich had not yet arrived with the
militia, and for many other reasons. The fact is that other
positions they had passed were stronger, and that the position at
Borodino (the one where the battle was fought), far from being strong,
was no more a position than any other spot one might find in the
Russian Empire by sticking a pin into the map at hazard.

Not only did the Russians not fortify the position on the field of
Borodino to the left of, and at a right angle to, the highroad (that
is, the position on which the battle took place), but never till the
twenty-fifth of August, 1812, did they think that a battle might be
fought there. This was shown first by the fact that there were no
entrenchments there by the twenty fifth and that those begun on the
twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth were not completed, and secondly, by the
position of the Shevardino Redoubt. That redoubt was quite senseless
in front of the position where the battle was accepted. Why was it
more strongly fortified than any other post? And why were all
efforts exhausted and six thousand men sacrificed to defend it till
late at night on the twenty-fourth? A Cossack patrol would have
sufficed to observe the enemy. Thirdly, as proof that the position
on which the battle was fought had not been foreseen and that the
Shevardino Redoubt was not an advanced post of that position, we
have the fact that up to the twenty-fifth, Barclay de Tolly and
Bagration were convinced that the Shevardino Redoubt was the left
flank of the position, and that Kutuzov himself in his report, written
in hot haste after the battle, speaks of the Shevardino Redoubt as the
left flank of the position. It was much later, when reports on the
battle of Borodino were written at leisure, that the incorrect and
extraordinary statement was invented (probably to justify the mistakes
of a commander in chief who had to be represented as infallible)
that the Shevardino Redoubt was an advanced post- whereas in reality
it was simply a fortified point on the left flank- and that the battle
of Borodino was fought by us on an entrenched position previously
selected, where as it was fought on a quite unexpected spot which
was almost unentrenched.

The case was evidently this: a position was selected along the river
Kolocha- which crosses the highroad not at a right angle but at an
acute angle- so that the left flank was at Shevardino, the right flank
near the village of Novoe, and the center at Borodino at the
confluence of the rivers Kolocha and Voyna.

To anyone who looks at the field of Borodino without thinking of how
the battle was actually fought, this position, protected by the
river Kolocha, presents itself as obvious for an army whose object was
to prevent an enemy from advancing along the Smolensk road to Moscow.

Napoleon, riding to Valuevo on the twenty-fourth, did not see (as
the history books say he did) the position of the Russians from Utitsa
to Borodino (he could not have seen that position because it did not
exist), nor did he see an advanced post of the Russian army, but while
pursuing the Russian rearguard he came upon the left flank of the
Russian position- at the Shevardino Redoubt- and unexpectedly for
the Russians moved his army across the Kolocha. And the Russians,
not having time to begin a general engagement, withdrew their left
wing from the position they had intended to occupy and took up a new
position which had not been foreseen and was not fortified. By
crossing to the other side of the Kolocha to the left of the highroad,
Napoleon shifted the whole forthcoming battle from right to left
(looking from the Russian side) and transferred it to the plain
between Utitsa, Semenovsk, and Borodino- a plain no more
advantageous as a position than any other plain in Russia- and there
the whole battle of the twenty-sixth of August took place.

Had Napoleon not ridden out on the evening of the twenty-fourth to
the Kolocha, and had he not then ordered an immediate attack on the
redoubt but had begun the attack next morning, no one would have
doubted that the Shevardino Redoubt was the left flank of our and
the battle would have taken place where we expected it. In that case
we should probably have defended the Shevardino Redoubt- our left
flank- still more obstinately. We should have attacked Napoleon in the
center or on the right, and the engagement would have taken place on
the twenty-fifth, in the position we intended and had fortified. But
as the attack on our left flank took place in the evening after the
retreat of our rea guard (that is, immediately after the fight at
Gridneva), and as the Russian commanders did not wish, or were not
in time, to begin a general engagement then on the evening of the
twenty-fourth, the first and chief action of the battle of Borodino
was already lost on the twenty-fourth, and obviously led to the loss
of the one fought on the twenty-sixth.

After the loss of the Shevardino Redoubt, we found ourselves on
the morning of the twenty-fifth without a position for our left flank,
and were forced to bend it back and hastily entrench it where it
chanced to be.

Not only was the Russian army on the twenty-sixth defended by
weak, unfinished entrenchments, but the disadvantage of that
position was increased by the fact that the Russian commanders- not
having fully realized what had happened, namely the loss of our
position on the left flank and the shifting of the whole field of
the forthcoming battle from right to left- maintained their extended
position from the village of Novoe to Utitsa, and consequently had
to move their forces from right to left during the battle. So it
happened that throughout the whole battle the Russians opposed the
entire French army launched against our left flank with but half as
many men. (Poniatowski's action against Utitsa, and Uvarov's on the
right flank against the French, were actions distinct from the main
course of the battle.) So the battle of Borodino did not take place at
all as (in an effort to conceal our commanders' mistakes even at the
cost of diminishing the glory due to the Russian army and people) it
has been described. The battle of Borodino was not fought on a
chosen and entrenched position with forces only slightly weaker than
those of the enemy, but, as a result of the loss of the Shevardino
Redoubt, the Russians fought the battle of Borodino on an open and
almost unentrenched position, with forces only half as numerous as the
French; that is to say, under conditions in which it was not merely
unthinkable to fight for ten hours and secure an indecisive result,
but unthinkable to keep an army even from complete disintegration
and flight.

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War And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 20 War And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 20

War And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 20
On the morning of the twenty-fifth Pierre was leaving Mozhaysk. Atthe descent of the high steep hill, down which a winding road ledout of the town past the cathedral on the right a service wasbeing held and the bells were ringing, Pierre got out of his vehicleand proceeded on foot. Behind him a cavalry regiment was coming downthe hill preceded by its singers. Coming up toward him was a trainof carts carrying men who had been wounded in the engagement the daybefore. The peasant drivers, shouting and lashing their horses, keptcrossing from side to side. The carts, in each of

War And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 18 War And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 18

War And Peace - Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter 18
When Pierre returned home he was handed two of Rostopchin'sbroadsheets that had been brought that day.The first declared that the report that Count Rostopchin hadforbidden people to leave Moscow was false; on the contrary he wasglad that ladies and tradesmen's wives were leaving the city. "Therewill be less panic and less gossip," ran the broadsheet "but I willstake my life on it that that will not enter Moscow." These wordsshowed Pierre clearly for the first time that the French would enterMoscow. The second broadsheet stated that our headquarters were atVyazma, that Count Wittgenstein had defeated the French, but that asmany of